Boyle County so far has been left out of the building bonanza of new judicial centers across the state, but some renovation under way at the courthouse is giving the facility a new family court room.
The county will be reimbursed by the Administrative Office of the Courts for the project, which is expected to cost $180,000.
"We desperately needed a room for (Judge) Bruce Petrie’s family court," said Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney. “It is going to give some more room to him and his staff, and it is going to be a better security arrangement.”
What was storage space on the third floor for years will be a new courtroom, offices and restroom for family court. An area on the second floor below the courtroom is being renovated for offices for court staff with a connecting staircase to the third floor, as well as a space for attorneys to meet with clients in private.
Petrie also presides in Mercer County, which recently built a new judicial center. Family court in Mercer has its own courtroom, and Petrie has his own office space.
In Boyle, he must schedule his busy docket around circuit and district courts in order to use the courtrooms. Even then, McKinney said family court proceedings sometimes are pushed to the grand jury room.
Because work has to be scheduled around what is happening at the courthouse on a given day, the project likely will take longer than it would otherwise. County Engineer Duane Campbell said the work should be complete in August.
“I really appreciate the fact they saw that this is a necessity at this point and the issues we deal with are important enough to have their own space,” Petrie said.
Mercer, along with Garrard County, was part of a massive AOC construction plan begun several years ago. Petrie noted the state’s emphasis on incorporating the family court model into plans for newer courthouses.
According to the state Court of Justice website, family courts are a division of circuit court but also hear some cases that were handled in district court in the past. State law gives the court broad jurisdiction over matters including divorce, custody, child support and adoption and includes some stages of domestic violence cases, as well as abuse and neglect.
A constitutional amendment passed in 2002 codified family court’s jurisdiction and began an effort to spread the model throughout the state. It has not been instituted in every county, but Petrie said that’s not because a need doesn’t exist.
According to the most statistics available from the Administrative Office of the Courts, there were 1,184 cases in the Boyle and Mercer division in 2010. In Boyle County, the number of cases filed grew from 239 in 2003, the year after the constitutional amendment was ratified, to 763 in 2010. In Mercer County, cases filed rose from 129 to 427 over the same time period.
McKinney said the new spaces will provide a needed buffer between participants in volatile cases that the state court’s website characterizes as "the most intimate and complex aspects of human nature and social relations.” The family court judge will have a private entry and exit from the bench to chambers that include a private restroom.
There will be secondary benefits as well for the other courts when family court proceedings and some of the accompanying activities can be moved to their new space. Petrie said what is supposed to be the circuit court witness room has been his offices but can now be used for its original purpose.
Like many other offices in the courthouse, McKinney said family court would benefit from the modern amenities found in the newer courthouses. For now, though, he and Petrie agree the renovation will provide a dramatic improvement.
“Is it ideal as far as what he probably should have?,” McKinney said. “Probably no. But it is far better than what we have now.”